With the beat of the Congo drums echoing inside the gym at Paul Revere Elementary School, students could not resist moving to the beat.
Last Friday, led by dancers from Jean Appolon Expressions (JAE), a Cambridge-based dance troupe that teaches and performs traditional Haitian folkloric dance, students at the Paul Revere School learned some impressive dance moves.
“We have two teachers who are familiar with the group,” said Paul Revere School Principal Maurice Coyle. “Both of them have actually participated in their dance classes outside of school and knew they would be a great experience for our students."
JAE is a contemporary dance company deeply rooted in Haitian folkloric culture that celebrates, nurtures, and empowers a global community. JAE accomplishes this through professional performances, teaching, and fostering healing and the joy of movement in people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds to contribute to a socially just world.
Leader and namesake of the dance company, Jean Appolon, led the class for students along with dancers Mcebisi Xotyeni and Velouse Joseph.
Appolon, a Haitian native who came to the U.S. as a young man, is the co-founder and artistic director of the dance company. Growing up in Haiti, Appolon immersed himself in all the dance education opportunities that were available to him as a young boy in Port-au-Prince, even though his parents forbade him to dance.
After immigrating to the US, Appolon advanced his training at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and later at the Joffrey Ballet School, both in New York City. Soon after, Appolon made it his life mission to restore, preserve and advance Haitian folkloric dance by constantly pushing the art form forward while remaining accessible and educational.
“I thought the program was outstanding,” said Coyle. “The group had an incredible way of creating comfort and excitement. Students actively participated, were laughing, and were learning a bit about the roots of Haitian folkloric dance. It was a great opportunity to celebrate the culture of some of our students and to expose many other students to a culture they may not know as much about.”
Coyle added that it is important to share different cultural traditions as part of the school district’s equity work.
“As part of our equity work in the district and especially here at the Paul Revere, we strive to engage students in exploration and experiences that broaden their cultural awareness and celebrate student identity,” he said. “We know with certainty that, depending on the lived experiences of each child and their cultural background, the Jean Appolon Expressions group was able to hit all of these marks! Students were so impacted by this experience that they were even doing the dances on their own outside at recess later that day."
Coyle hopes JAE can revisit the school, as well as similar cultural groups that resemble the diversity at Paul Revere.
“We would love for this group to come back some time,” said Coyle. “I know there was a significant expense associated with the experience, but we are so lucky that the PTO was willing to pay, and we are also working with the Mass Cultural Council to explore grant opportunities that may exist.”
See more photos here.